Pre-existents (or Preexistiani) is the name given to those who hold the hypothesis of the preexistence of souls, or the doctrine that, at the beginning of creation, not that of this world simply, but of all worlds, God created the souls of all men, which, however, are not united to the body till the individuals for whom they are destined are begotten or born into the world. According to this theory, says Schedd, "Men were angelic spirits at first. Because of their apostasy in the angelic sphere, they were transferred, as a punishment for their sin, into material bodies in this mundane sphere, and are low passing through a disciplinary process, in order to be restored, all of them, without exception, to their pre-existent and angelic condition. These bodies to which they are joined come into existence by the ordinary course of physical propagation; so that the sensuous and material part of human nature has no existence previous to Adam. It is only the rational and spiritual principle of which a preadamic life is asserted." The doctrine of pre-existence first found its advocates In the Christian Church in the 2nd century. The fathers Justin Martyr, Origen, and others espoused it, particularly Origen, who became its principal exponent and advocate. It was a belief very prevalent anciently, and is still widely spread throughout the East. The Greek philosophers, too, especially those who held the doctrine of transmigration (q.v.), as the Pythagoreans, Empedocles, and even Plato-if with him pre-existence is not simply a symbolical myth-were familiar with the conception; and so were the Jews, especially the cabalists. It is generally received by the modern Jews, and is frequently taught in the writings of the rabbins. One declares that "the soul of mall had an existence anterior to the formation of the heavens, they being nothing but fire and water." The same author asserts that "the human soul is a particle of the Deity from above, and is eternal like the heavenly natures." A similar doctrine is believed by the Persian Sofis (q.v.). With the pre-existents should also be classed the metempsychosis, for pre-existence is connected with the idea of metempsychosis (q.v.), according to which doctrine the soul was, in a former life, in punishment for sin, united with a human body, in order to expiate, by the miseries of earthly existence, anterior transgressions. Therefore St. Augustine, invoking Cicero's authority, says (Contrat Julianu. 4, 15): "Ex quibus humanae vitae erroribus et aerumnis fit, ut interdlum veteres illi sive vates sive in sacris initiisque tradendis divinae mentis interpretes, qui nos ob aliqua scelera suscepta in vita superiori paenarum luendarum causa esse natos dixerunt, aliquid vidisse videantur." Nemesius, as a philosopher, and Prudentius, as a poet, seem to have been the only defenders of the pre-existence theory, which was condemned formally in the Council of Constantinople, in A.D. 540. But the doctrine has been embraced by mystics (q.v.) generally, both in ancient and modern times; and has since been revived, in a modified form, in German theology, by Julius Muller, and forms the basis of his work on The Christian Doctrine of Sin, one of the deepest works in modern theology. In American theology it has its able advocate in Dr. Edward Beecher (The Conflict of Ages), but the Christian Church generally has thus far failed to give its assent to it. In the domain of philosophy, direct intellectual interest in this doctrine has nearly ceased in modern times; yet the dream-for, whether true or false, it is and can be nothing but a dream in our present state, and with our present capabilities of knowledge-has again and again haunted individual thinkers. Wordsworth has given poetical expression to it in his famous ode, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood:
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting. The soul that rises with us— our life's star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home."
The latest philosophy of Germany-that of Hegel and of the younger Fichte (Psychologie )-has moderately revived the doctrine, and, with the alliance of such theologians as Muller, may crowd it into prominent consideration upon the Church. It remains for us to say here that the name Preexistianti was given to the advocates of this belief to distinguish them from the Creaticaii, those who hold to the immediate creation of the human soul at the moment of the production of the body; and to distinguish them from the Traducianists, who held that children received soul as well as body from their parents. See Cudworth, Intellectual Development of the Universe; Delitzsch, Biblical Psychol. p. 41-43;
Lawson, Church of Christ; Goodwin, Works; Register, Studien un. Kritiken, 1829-37, s.v. Seele; Westminster Rev. April, 1865; Bibliotheca Sancta, Jan. 1855, p. 156; Methodist Rev. Oct. 1853, p. 567. (J. H. V.)